'Raging Bull' boxing champ LaMotta dies at 95

Jake LaMotta training in New York in 1949, the year he captured the middleweight championship. Six years earlier, he became the first man to defeat boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson.
Jake LaMotta training in New York in 1949, the year he captured the middleweight championship. Six years earlier, he became the first man to defeat boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Jake LaMotta, who died aged 95 on Tuesday following complications from pneumonia, is generally acknowledged as one of the toughest men to have entered a professional boxing ring.

Brought up in poverty, a teenage hoodlum, married six times, imprisoned for pimping, LaMotta led a life that reads like a film script and was the basis for the boxing movie, Raging Bull.

Robert De Niro won an Oscar for his portrayal of the violent, wife-beating LaMotta, who had nevertheless endeared himself to the American public at a time when boxing was a popular spectator sport, with his almost unbelievable feats of bravery within the ring.

The film was based on LaMotta's 1970 memoir, Raging Bull: My Story, which was republished on several occasions.

He would boast "no son-of-a-b**** ever knocked me off my feet" - which was not true as he was floored in one of his last fights by Danny Nardico in 1952.

He was a fighter prepared to absorb numerous punches to land more telling blows of his own.

"I just want people to know, he was a great, sweet, sensitive, strong, compelling man with a great sense of humour, with eyes that danced," his fiancee Denise Baker was quoted by TMZ as saying.

Born Giacobbe LaMotta in the Bronx neighbourhood of New York, LaMotta had an impoverished childhood and told of how his father - the only man he feared, owing to the regular beatings - would force him into fights with other children. The loose change thrown into the ring by the adult spectators helped to pay the family's rent.

He turned professional in 1941, quickly becoming a crowd favourite because of his style of pressure fighting.

His great rivalry with Sugar Ray Robinson - regarded by many as the best pound-for-pound fighter of all time - began the following year, when Robinson won a 10-round points decision at Madison Square Garden.

In 1943, in Detroit, LaMotta would become the first man to defeat Robinson when he knocked him through the ropes in the eighth round. Robinson was saved by the bell, but was outpointed.

LaMotta went on to win the undisputed world middleweight title in 1949. He retained his world title twice before losing in 1951 to Robinson at the Chicago Stadium.

Robinson would call LaMotta as his most durable opponent in the ring. "He's the toughest guy I ever fought, I never knew anyone who was more aggressive and rough as he," he said years later.

LaMotta continued to fight for a further three years but with patchy results, having taken to drink. Out of a total of 106 professional bouts, he won 83 (30 of them by knockout) and lost 19, with four draws.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline ''Raging Bull' boxing champ LaMotta dies at 95'. Print Edition | Subscribe